JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Sneaky guy, that Doug Marrone. In a conference call last week with New York reporters, the Jacksonville Jaguars coach raved about Darron Lee and Avery Williamson, calling them the best inside-linebacker tandem he and his staff had seen on tape. Meanwhile, Marrone and his offensive staff already had formulated a game plan to attack the two centerpieces in the New York Jets‘ defense.
The Jaguars exploited Lee and Williamson in pass coverage, running shallow crossing routes through their zones — over and over and over. Despite Marrone’s effusive praise, the Jaguars identified a weakness and brought the Jets’ defense to its knees. In a historically bad afternoon, the Jets allowed 503 total yards, their worst day since Nov. 13, 2008 — when Brett Favre beat the New England Patriots (511 yards) in a wild overtime game.
Lee and Williamson owned up to their mistakes after the Jets’ 31-12 loss, but it would be unfair to blame only them for the debacle. The Jets were bad on all three levels of defense — line, linebackers and secondary — and that’s troubling for three reasons:
1. The defense is supposed to be the strength of the team, starting with Leonard Williams up front and working back to the “New Jack City” secondary. Maybe the secondary should be renamed “Second City” because it was a comedy of errors. With the Jets starting rookie Sam Darnold at quarterback, it’s on the defense to carry the team as the offense endures its growing pains — and it’s failing.
2. The Jets adjusted poorly to the shallow crossers. What’s the old saying: How many times do you need to get hit in the face with a skunk before you realize it stinks?
3. The opposing quarterback was Blake Bortles. Yes, Blake Bortles.
“Absolutely,” Lee said. “If you’re not pissed off about it, something is wrong.”
Something is wrong with the defense, which has allowed 589 passing yards combined to Bortles (career-high 388) and rookie Baker Mayfield (201) in the last six-plus quarters.
We’re not talking Brady and Rodgers. We’re talking Bortles and Mayfield.
The Jets looked ill-prepared for the underneath passes, with some players saying there were communication issues. Lee and Williamson said they did a poor job of “passing off” receivers that crossed through their zones. The Jaguars were surprised by the soft coverage. At times, they ran clear-out routes to create space. Worked like a charm. Coach Todd Bowles said “we were bad in underneath” coverage for the first time.
“We ran under routes all week, over and over, and everybody knew what was going on,” said Bowles, essentially blaming the players. “We’ll get to the bottom of it.”
The defense was brilliant in the opener, recording five takeaways in the rout of the Detroit Lions. Since then, they’ve been half-bad, half-good, seemingly incapable of playing a complete game. This is a unit with four former first-round picks — Williams, Lee, cornerback Morris Claiborne and safety Jamal Adams — and a $72 million free agent at cornerback, Trumaine Johnson, who has been utterly mediocre. He got torched by Donte Moncrief on a 67-yard deep ball for a touchdown.
“I can definitely be better,” Johnson said.
It could get worse for this underachieving group, as the quarterback competition is stepping up in class over the next three weeks — Case Keenum, Andrew Luck and Kirk Cousins. The Jets can’t expect Darnold to spark the team out of its three-game funk — he has his own issues — so it falls on the defense.
“You can call it what you want,” said Adams, expressing a hint of defiance. “You can say New Jack City is done, the whole team is done. You can say that, but the NFL is about catching your stride. Little do you know, a lot of teams don’t start off hot and they get stronger.
“Everybody is going to count us out and that’s fine,” he continued. “Everybody has been counting us out. There’s a lot of football to be played. We’re not the only team that’s 1-3 — let’s get that straight — but everybody will be saying the Jets are 1-3. It’ll be a headline. But we’re hungry, man. We just have to put it all together.”
If they can be toppled by one pass route, it’s fair to say they have a lot of work to do.